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Few people realize just how complex and interconnected the industrial infrastructure of the developed world is and more importantly just how fragile it is.
You local grocery stores relies on a massive industrial infrastructure. Just a few of those industries are:
- Trucking companies
- Shipping Lines
- Refineries and Fuel Distribution
- Petroleum Production and Transportation
- Packaging Manufacturers
- Fertilizer Production
- Seed Production
- Electrical Power Generation
- Coal and Gas Production
- Lightbulb Manufacturers
- Computer Manufacturers
- Refrigeration Compressor Manufacturers
- Chemical Production Facilities
- Electronic Inventory Systems
Most of us don’t think about the truly massive complex of industry that supports the grocery store in which we buy a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk. Most of us don’t realize or appreciate that if just ONE of those critical industries fails the grocery store (and our food supply) ceases to function.
The failure of the electrical system over a wide area would stop fuel production and distribution which would stop the truck and trains which would bring the food distribution system to a halt. 2-3 days after that… the grocery store are out of food.
If the electricity stops, the Food stops. The Water stops. The Sanitation system stops. Communications (radio, television. internet, radio) stop.
The Police can no longer function once they fuel supply runs out, once the radios stop working.
Local, State and Federal governments can no longer communicate or coordinate activities once the communications and transportation stop.
Your individual knowledge of the world around you would suddenly be limited to what you personally can see and hear… nothing more. Your world would become much, much smaller…
No Radio, no TV, no Internet, No Newspapers…
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Let’s assume you have the survival skills necessary to see you through a large scale disaster. You and your family had enough food and water. You were in a safe location and had sufficient security to see you through the aftermath and death of the majority of the people in your country.
For a while afterwards you can salvage supplies, materials and tools from the ruins of what’s left. You can start to establish a self sufficient environment for the future. But what happens next?
When the last battery wears out do you know how to make more? When the last flashlight bulb breaks can you make another one? When your last solar panel breaks can you make a replacement? When the last computer dies can you make a new one? When the last pair of shoes wears out are you going to go barefoot?
What will your children do when there are no more parts to salvage? What will your grandchildren do?
Much of our existing technological infrastructure has been built upon increasingly sophisticated technology which some time ago passed the point of being “bootstrappable” i.e. able to be recreated from scratch. Much of our technology requires other precursor and support technology which is itself not capable of being “bootstrapped” from scratch.
Computer production requires optical and electronic devices far beyond the capability of an individual to produce. The crystals of silicon used to produce most computer chips require sophisticated ovens and production facilities that few people could build. The tools used to manufacture wafers from silicon crystals depends on generations of development that could not be built in even a sophisticated machine shop. Even something as seemingly simple as a pocket calculator was beyond the capability of the technology that put a man on the moon in the 1960s.
The U.S. built the worlds first nuclear weapon in the 1940s. They built submarines. Aircraft that could fly half way around the world. Primitive ballistic missiles. Jet engines But all of the technology of that time could not build a simple pocket calculator as we know them today or an LED flashlight. They not only did not have the technology but would have had to build several generations of new industries in order even to create the tools and technology to do so.
Most of us today know how to OPERATE modern technology but few if any of us have the knowledge to manufacture that technology.
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The Library is currently about 170 gb of data made up of over 10,000 PDF files.
There is a certain irony, as several people have pointed out, of collection digital copies of books that are accessible only through electronic devices (i.e. computers) in order to have the the knowledge of how to rebuild an 1800’s through early 1900’s technological and industrial infrastructure after a Solar or Nuclear EMP has destroyed most electronic technology. And it’s a good question.
Unfortunately we’re already at about 2.5 million pages of information and still growing. The last time I worked out the figures it would take something like 400 cases of paper and several hundred toner cartridges for a common Laser Printer to print out a single copy of the library. I calculated the costs, a retail prices at about $30,000 just for the paper and toner. That does not even take into account binding the books or putting up shelves on which to store them.
So how do you store something that’s too expensive to print, too large to store physically and could all be erased in an instant from a hard drive by an EMP event?
There are several solutions listed below. They are by no means the only solutions as I’m sure people have already come up with others that they just haven’t shared.
In the event that the Library is ever actually needed it’s going to be after a collapse and after the survivors have made it through the initial emergency, the die-off, have established self sufficient communities capable of surviving for the long term in food, shelter and security. Once that point is reached they are going to start making long term plans on how to start rebuilding, organizing, developing trade and industry again and restoring a technological infrastructure for when salvage e is no longer a viable source of supply.
1. STORING the Data
Optical Disk Storage (DVD/CD)
100+ gigabytes equates to roughly a couple dozen DVDs full of information if you store them in the most space efficient manner rather than separating them by category. For the sake of argument, lets say 24 DVDs. If you used CDs instead it would require about 150 cds.
24 DVDs cost a few dollars and most modern computers have DVD writers on them. I’ve made several sets of Library DVDs. I even took the extra step of printing attractive labels on them with the categories they each contained. When completed the set, in protective cases, was a couple inches high.
The bottom line is that storing the entire Library on DVDs is cost effective, simple and easily duplicated. It’s quite simple to make multiple copies to store in separated locations or with other people. The DVDs have a long lifespan if not physically damaged though naturally multiple copies provide extremely inexpensive insurance.
This is the method I most recommend since it’s EMP proof, inexpensive and easily duplicated and distributed to others. As long as the discs are protected from heat and physical damage they should have a long lifetime.
Hard Drive Storage
100+ gigabytes is a rather small amount of space relative to most modern hard drive. It’s becoming increasingly hard to even find hard drive under 100gb. Most laptops made in the last few years have hard drives in the hundreds of gigabytes.
There are a wide ranged or portable hard drive that are inexpensive. You can buy a small portable hard drive with capacities of 500gb for about $50-$70. By shopping around and looking at used equipment you can find them even cheaper. For those technically minded you can buy small cases for the 3.5 inch laptop drives for around $10 and then salvage the hard drive from a dead laptop to make your own.
Regardless of whether you use the hard drive in a laptop or a separate portable hard drive you will have to make plans to protect the hard drive from the effects of an EMP caused by a solar flare or by a manmade EMP attack. That issue is addressed further along.
Most flash drive currently in use are only a few gb in size though there are a few that are large enough to hold the Library. There is at least one 128gb flash drive on the market for under $100 and will undoubtedly be more in the near future and the prices will decline. A large capacity Flash Drive is certainly a viable alternative for storing the Library though Flash drive are significantly more fragile that hard drives of DVD/CDs. Just as with a hard drive the media would need protection from EMP effects.
2. ACCESSING the information
Realistically the only truly effective method of accessing the books in the Library stored in Digital form is with a computer. E-Readers are a possible option but most are limited in size and make reading of scanned books difficult. Almost all E-Readers lack printing capability.
In the aftermath of an EMP event, either natural or manmade, there are unlikely to be many functional computers remaining. With work and some technical skill it would likely be possible to rebuild a few with parts that happened to escape the devastating effects of an EMP event though even that is speculation. Even in the worse case EMP event there are going to be some salvageable computers… motherboards and other components stored in static bags, laptops in metal enclosures that unintentionally serve as Faraday cages, etc.
The best approach to ensuring that a computer is available is to set aside a laptop in a protected EMP proof storage location. There are a couple of options for laptops. When you replace an older laptop turn the older one into an emergency backup. Look for older used laptops. Used laptops can often be found very inexpensively. They may not be adequate for current generation computing but could be more than adequate to load and read a PDF file from a DVD or portable hard drive. Keep an eye out at yard sales, local thrift stores, printed and online classified ads. You might be surprised at what you can find.
EMP effects from a solar flare on the scale of the Carrington Event of 1859 are capable of destroying virtually all electronic devices which use solid state electronics. About the only electronic devices which would survive are those using early to mid 1900s tubes (essentially WWII technology) and those protected by a Faraday Cage. There are a few classes of military devices which were designed to withstand some of the EMP effects of a Nuclear War environment but it’s use has declined over time with the lessening danger of nuclear conflict.
If a solar flare comparable in size to the Carrington Event were to occur today it is safe to assume that virtually every single unprotected electronic device would be damaged beyond usability or outright destroyed.
So in order to make use of the Library in a worse case disaster you will have to safely store the computer equipment needed to read it.
Storing a printer is certainly optional. Ideally a small laser printer in a Faraday Cage but that is more than most folks could reasonably afford. The advantage to a laser printer is that the toner cartridges have a fairly high capacity and can be refilled fairly easily with toner from other cartridges in an emergency.
An older ink jet printer might be an attractive option except for the matter of ink cartridges which have low capacity and limited shelf life after being opened. The best option for storing an ink jet printer is to buy one or two sets of cartridges for that printer and store them unopened. The printer itself should be stored without cartridges in it. Additionally you should take the time to research the various methods of refilling ink jet cartridges and buy the materials and supplies to refill them multiple times.
Regardless of which option to choose, be sure to include CDs containing the print drivers for them and be sure that you have the proper print drivers for whatever computer you have stored.
While storing a printer might seem a bit extreme, imagine being in a situation where you and others needed the knowledge in the books of the Library and the only alternative to reading them on a single fragile computer was to transcribe them by hand.
As with computer technology itself there is a good chance that there will be some salvageable or repairable printers available. The key factor there will be printing supplies for them. Paper deteriorates and cases of paper will not be high priority items for most people to store. Salvaging paper supplies as soon as possible will be critical. The same applies to toner and ink depending on the printer type. Once the existing salvageable supplies of those items are used up it will be a long. long time before they can be replaced.
Theoretically if a book in the library is accessible using a salvaged computer or laptop it could be transcribed manually but that is a labor intensive effort. Setting type by hand to print a book is even more labor intensive.
4. ELECTRONIC PROTECTION
The only really effective means of protecting electronic equipment from EMP effects is by storing them inside a Faraday Cage. Faraday Cages have been used for decades and can provide 100% protection from electrical fields which would otherwise damage or destroy electronics.
Fortunately they are quite simple to build and use. A Faraday cage is essentially nothing more than a metal shield that completely surrounds a volume of space. It’s not armor plating. It does not require special materials or unusual construction techniques. The simplest Faraday Cages are made of metal mesh (e.g. screening material) or sheet metal.
There are two approaches to building a Faraday Cage. The oldest and most traditional is to build a literal “cage”, a rectangular box shape made of metal mesh. A roll of metal window screen works quite well and can be made any size one wishes.
The simplest way however is using sheet metal and requires no construction of metal working skills at all. Galvanized metal trash cans with removable lids have been around for around a hundred years. They can be purchased in various sizes at most hardware stores and are relatively inexpensive. ($15-$30 range)
The key to turning a galvanized trash can into a functional Faraday Cage is to line it so that the contents do not contact the metal of the can and to ensure that the seam between the lid and the body of the can seals with continuous metal to metal contact.
Below are some links to constructing Faraday Cages from galvanized metal trash cans as well some recommendations for additional items to store in them. You can easily find additional information webpages and videos by searching the term Faraday Cage.
A set of Library DVDs and/or a copy on a portable hard drive or a laptop hard drive and an older laptop provides a library of thousands of books worth of information. Even better would be to store an extra printer in a Faraday Cage for printing out books as required if the situation ever dictated needing the Library. Cases of paper would survive most disasters and could be salvaged. Working computers and printers might not.
We have Faraday Cages constructed in this fashion stored in a corner of the attic. They contain several older laptops, multiple copies of the Library as well as a variety of other electronic emergency supplies such as wind up flashlights, solar battery chargers, two way radios, CBs, shortwave radios, extra printers and other items. None of the items are ones we miss since they are mostly surplus items or items we would not normally need. However should the situation ever arise when we did need them they could easily mean the difference between life and death, comfort and hardship not only for ourselves and others but for our community.
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The books in the Library date predominantly from the 1800s through early 1900s. Some are much older and date back into the 1700s and even earlier. They contain knowledge of skills and techniques that have been made obsolete by more advanced technology.
Some date from much earlier periods because the technology in them quite literally disn’t change in several hundred years. Building a bow to shoot arrows has changed in recent decades due to new and advanced materialsand methods of construction. Without those advanced materials however a bowyer of the 1500s and a bowyer of the late 1800s used virtually identical techniques, materials, tools and skills.
Who needs to know how to make carriages and wagons when automobiles and trucks have replaced them? Horse drawn carriages are a quaint novelty for tourists and festivals. Wooden barrels are a specialized item made only for brewers and landscapers today since we have metals and plastic replacements.
One of the most noticeable characteristics of the skills of the 1800 through the early 1900s is that virtually all of the technology in them can be produced using relatively simple tools. Most early automobiles and airplanes were produced in home workshops using tools not as sophisticated as most hobbyists have in their shops today.
Books on managing a home from the 1800s taught not only how to cook and clean but also how to manufacture most of the supplies and materials needed.
Modern cookbooks provide a list of ingredients which can be bought at the grocery store. 1800s cookbooks often explained how to make or produce all of the ingredients yourself.
Many of the books from those time periods did not assume that you had access to a sophisticated industrial infrastructure from which to procure tools and materials. Many of them were instructions on how to manufacture your own tools and materials.
Books concerning aeroplanes from the pre and post WWI era are at a level of technology which could be recreated by most modern craftsmen. The engines used on most aeroplanes of that era could be manufactured in the machine shops of many modern hobbyists.
The technology of the 1800s through the early 1900s is simple enough that the majority of it could be recreated by any relatively skilled craftsman using relatively simple tools. The tools and equipment needed which are no longer in common use today could itself be manufactured using simple tools.
In short, it is a level of technology that a community of survivors could easily master and recreate using simple tools available in the aftermath of a massive disaster. It would be possible to produce an infrastructure as sophisticated as that of the late 1800s and early 1900s… an industrial infrastructure that in less than 40 years produced nuclear energy and jet aircraft. A technological system that within 70 years went from the Wright Brothers early experiments with flight to putting a man on the moon.
Most importantly it is a level of technology and industry which can be “bootstrapped” by a community of people who have to rely totally on simple tools and their own ingenuity.
It does not require engineers, chemists, programmers and physicists. The first airplanes were built by mechanics and bicycle makers. The first rockets were made by hobbyists and tinkerers.
The technology in most of the books in the Library is well within the reach of most craftsmen, tinkerers and hobbyists who have basic tool using skills. It is a level of technology that is surely well within the reach of a community of people trying to rebuild a collapsed industrial world.
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Among people who contemplate disasters and try to prepare for such mostr are what fall in the category of events known as a Low Probability/High Consequence Event. That is an event that has a low probability of occurring but has very high consequences if it does occur.
Such events include disasters such as EMP events, Supervolcano Eruptions, Nuclear War, Worldwide Pandemics and several other type of events. All of these have a few common elements. The question of the probability of these events is always an issue of debate.
The likelihood of a Nuclear EMP event was considered to be so minimal as to not be worth considering until several nonrational, politically unstable and unpredictable nations such as Iran, North Korea and Pakistan either developed or are in the process of developing types of nuclear weapons which seem ideally suited to such uses. Coupled with their development of ballistic missiles which are again ideally suited for such uses and the testing launching of such missiles off of freighters on the high seas, the “probability” of such events has risen quite dramatically in some people’s minds.
The difficulty of defending against such actions by hardening the power grid and protecting critical electronics from such an attack have apparently convinced the Federal government to not bother taking any action at all. The result is the United States and most of the Western Industrial world is susceptible to being virtually destroyed by a few rogue nations using technology not much different from that of the late 1940s.
Thus there exists the possibility of Asymmetrical Warfare where a country with relatively unsophisticated technology has the ability to exploit a weakness of a much more technologically sophisticated country and do extensive damage or even destroy or neutralize an enemy entirely.
Even more difficult to contemplate is the results of a Solar Flare comparable to the Carrington Event of 1859. If you have read William Forstchen’s One Second After book then you have taste of the possible results of such an attack. If your imagination is up to the task, try to imagine the scenario in that book occurring worldwide.
In all of these events the casualties of such disasters can be optimistically estimated to be the MAJORITY of the human race affected by the event. The survivors will be a minority of the people alive at the time of the event. Depending on the type of event and it’s area of effect the casualties could range from 50% up through as much as 90% of the people living at the time the event occurs. Some people consider these estimates to be optimistic.
One ancillary effect and more long term of such a disasters is the collapse of the technological and industrial infrastructure on which most of the world depends.